At its February 10th meeting, the Fort Bragg City Council unanimously approved sending a letter to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.
The first two paragraphs: “Mendocino County’s reliance on Redwood Quality Management Company (RQMC) and Redwood Community Services (RCS) for Behavioral Health and Recovery Services appears to increase each year. As the services that RQMC and RCS provide are expanded, the Fort Bragg City Council would like to see more data on the success of those programs locally, here on the Coast, and countywide. Most, if not all, of the information provided by RQMC focuses on numbers served and not on measuring the improvements in the health and wellbeing of their clients.
“Without compromising confidentiality, it would be helpful to know how many clients enter programs with substance abuse or undiagnosed mental health illnesses and are successfully treated. For example, a metric that measures the baseline of clients entering the system and tracks and reports progress over time will provide accountability for County funds and a measurement to gage ongoing improvement. Although the City Council is not well versed in Behavioral Health and Recovery Services standards and metrics, we have no doubt such assessments exist to guide and evaluate these programs. The City Council feels strongly that we should compare our local programs to others in the region and across the nation, to evaluate success and pursue means to improve our programs, not just the numbers served.”
Later the letter states, “[T]he Fort Bragg City Council respectfully requests that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors require a professional assessment of the services provided by RQMC and all of their subcontractors using an appropriate industry standard. The results of such an assessment can be used countywide to evaluate the quality of services provided and measure success and progress going forward. The County could use these same results to build standard requirements or metrics into their service agreements.”
The bottom line amounts to a desire to see measurable outcomes. The initial data may need fine tuning, but once measurable outcome information is more fully available improvements can be far more readily achieved. So too, can realistic goals regarding budgeting, staffing and potential expansion of services.
Want something that isn't measured very well. Try the “Point in Time” count of homeless on the Mendocino Coast. Along with 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams and Fort Bragg City Council member Bernie Norvell, I attended a brief training for the PiT on the last Tuesday evening of January. Essentially, if you could sign your name and show up two mornings later at 5am, preferably with a driver's license, you were in. So, after counting and feeding all the cows here on the ranch at 3 am that Thursday, I made my way to Fort Bragg and the Hospitality Center, the entity responsible for the PiT.
Some of us from the Tuesday evening training had hoped that the 2019 PiT report from the Hospitality Center might be available for perusal, if for no other reason than to get an idea of where the homeless had been located last year. Such information was not available.
Ted Williams and I were teamed for the January 31st PiT count. We both searched through a box of clipboards with designated zones for the count, seeking the clipboard with the town of Mendocino as its subject. It was nowhere to be found. Instead we took possession of two other clipboards that covered Comptche-Ukiah Road, Little River, Albion, a portion of Albion Ridge Road, the Navarro Headlands and beach as well as Highway 128 out to Philo. Off we went in Ted's car at a couple minutes after 5am. As you might imagine, not even the homeless are up and at 'em in the pitch dark of a late January at 5 am, nor at 6 am. Even on dirt side roads off Albion Ridge, not a creature was stirring.
Only after we had looped around from Philo, back through the town of Navarro for a second time then onto Flynn Creek Road, through Comptche, and more than a hundred miles of driving later in the 7 o'clock hour, approximately seven miles east of Highway One, did we find a man living in his car on a dirt wide-out.
Though it was light by then, he was none too happy to have our headlights shining through his side window. He directed a F-bomb and an a-hole comment, as one should when choosing between an elected official and a writer, at the supervisor.
Ted and I headed on back to Highway One and over the Big River Bridge, having enjoyed a couple of hours of personal and political conversation, but both feeling rather sheepish about finding only one homeless person. Part of the conversation, of course, included a list of methods of improvement, too long for one article, for the manner in which the PiT count could or should take place. Later in the day, city councilman Norvell heard one of the offshoots of that conversation, Williams' idea to ask for more measurable outcomes from RQMC. This may have provided a genesis for the City's letter.
As we headed north, passing Mendocino, while I double checked my report on the man in his car on Comptche Road, what did I find buried at the bottom of the clipboard designated for Comptche Road and Little River? Yes, indeed, there, by its lonesome was the missing town of Mendocino PiT sheet.
We doubled back into town in time to spot three regular Mendocino homeless folk coming out of the brush toward the bus stop east of the Ford House on Main Street. We spotted one more homeless fellow near Moody's coffee emporium then parked the car and beat the bushes and soggier locales of the Mendocino headlands and beaches, but with no more visible homeless heads to count.
Of course, about eight hours later, on my way to a meeting in Fort Bragg I spied two recognizably homeless persons near the Highway One and Little Lake Road intersection. A couple of hours further into Thursday evening, I stopped on my return from the Fort Bragg meeting and met three of the usual homeless fellows who patrol Lansing Street of an evening. By then, Ted and I had long since turned in our clipboards.
Our obvious undercount of four homeless people (one woman, three men) for the town of Mendocino had been superseded by the five other homeless individuals I saw later on the same day.
Two days after that Bernie Norvell and I walked through a series of homeless encampments alongside Highway 20, on the outskirts of Fort Bragg. The time was early afternoon. We encountered four different individuals and a literal boatload (probably several boatloads) of trash. Three of the homeless individuals spoke with us at length, including a woman in her late twenties who was clearly high on meth and stated as much. Despite her condition, which on a chilly day included nothing more than a tee shirt and sweat pants as clothing, she recalled classmates from Mendocino High a decade earlier and other specific details, including her refusal to accept services from Hospitality Center and Hospitality House.
Later that week, Councilman Norvell contacted out-of-state relatives on her behalf. They would have taken her in, but when we returned to the site eight days later with the potential of bus tickets for her, she could not be located. Since then she has been arrested (again). She's on the Ten Mile Court docket for multiple hearings before a March 10th trial date. Whether she is classified as merely an alleged criminal with a drug habit or also diagnosed under our county's mental health system is unknown at this time to me.
One of the other people we spoke with at the string of homeless camps running east along Hare Creek was actively engaged in picking up bag after bag of garbage during both weekends that we stopped by. Farther east, alongside the creek, a woman kept her camp as neat as one could possibly do under her homeless circumstances. There was no visible evidence of alcohol or drug consumption at her solo camp. She talked at some length of her several years as an “outdoor enthusiast.” She had long ago given up on Hospitality House or the winter shelter system, stating that she had been passed over unfairly for housing through the Hospitality House/Center system for too long to consider further attempts at using their services. We did find this woman when we returned the following weekend. She politely refused an offer to work with Project Sanctuary as an alternative to Hospitality Center in an effort to find housing. The youngish man who spent much of his days cleaning up has also refused the housing offered by Hospitality, but he did state he occasionally uses the showers at Hospitality House.
The request by the Fort Bragg City Council is now mirrored by an agenda item offered by Supervisor Williams for the February 25th Board of Supervisors meeting. This item would “direct [the] Mendocino County Director of Health and Human Services to request aggregate patient outcome data from Redwood Quality Management Company and subcontractors, pursuant to the scope of work under the County’s various contracts with RQMC, and disseminate with trends analysis.”
The problems of homelessness and the lack of substantial mental health services extend beyond Mendocino County to the state and the nation. All the holes and pitfalls in services cannot be attributed to RQMC, RCS, or subcontractors like Hospitality Center. However, the abilities of these entities will remain in question unless truly measurable outcomes of the clientele become a commonplace work product.
That Point in Time count for last year? During the day, following the 2020 PiT, I texted the executive director of the Hospitality Center, requesting “a 2019 PiT count for [the] Coast – or even 2018 – that is available for public perusal.”
The Hospitality Center's executive director responded in text form that night, “Yes, I have the report for 2019 almost complete for the public. I just need a final edit of my work. It's about 13 pages long.”
More than twelve months to complete a 13-page document is a measurable outcome of sorts. According to reliable sourcing from outside this county, the national Point in Time report for any given year should be ready for the public by mid summer.